Categories
Authentic New Testament Solutions

The Importance of Having Fun

A therapist once told me that destructive behaviors develop in a person’s life in response to pain. That might be true in some cases, but I think many people get in trouble because they simply want more fun, more adventure. We all have taken risks seeking some type of thrill.

  • Alcoholics start by taking a drink for fun.
  • Drug addicts start by taking a drug for fun.
  • Porn addicts start by watching pornography for fun.

However, since fun is a basic human need, we all need to be more thoughtful and intentional about how we have fun so it benefits us, and doesn’t hurt us.

I think Jesus laughed a lot, but we don’t hear much about his humor because overly serious people lead most of our seminaries and Bible schools. The Scriptures are delightful, but some may fear they will appear lacking in spiritual depth if they highlight the funny situations Jesus often created.

Many of Jesus’ confrontations were, in fact, him jabbing his detractors in a clever way that probably left the boys, who were his disciples, snickering. We read those confrontations as sober prose, but I think the actual events might have been Jesus mocking the powerful – with a twinkle in his eye and a playful grin as he glanced at the disciples. In addition, many of his parables that have been analyzed to death by those in suits sporting furrowed brows, pursed lips, and wrinkled foreheads, reveal his sense of humor in confronting the troubled leaders of his day.

He liked troubling them.

I think that’s awesome!

Think about his actions after his resurrection. One was when his disciples were hiding in a locked room fearful of the Romans, and then Jesus suddenly terrifies them by appearing out of thin air — only to say  peace be unto you. Yeah right! He knew what he was doing, and it reveals to me that he was having fun with his followers. My guess is he laughed while they were composing themselves.

Just as our lives must be liberated from excessive gravity, so must our reading of the Gospels and our worship experiences. Jesus came to give us abundant life that is loving, joyful, and satisfying. His faithfulness makes me smile. His provision keeps me in wonder at his majesty. It’s hard to be a Christian and be sad about it. Christ is excessively pleasing. And, as he cleanses our consciences from acts that lead to death, he gives us a strong core, as well as an ability to see humor and laugh.

Aristotle defined human beings as creatures who are risible, ones who provoke laughter. We laugh, not just because we can be silly, but because we can find enjoyment and healing when we have some fun.

I love being a pastor because, for me, it’s loads of fun. Certainly I don’t want to minimize the serious calling and duties associated with competent pastoral ministry. But because I know I’m called, I look for opportunities to strengthen people’s relationships with God and with each other. One way I try to do this is by setting the stage for people to have fun with one another. Hurt, disappointed, and discouraged people can change perspectives and become delightful in a good church. As they connect with other individuals who are healthy and life-giving, they learn, and they grow toward more enjoyable lives.

I am a fan of Dr. William Glasser, the psychologist who developed Choice Theory and Reality Therapy. He connects fun with learning. He said,

We are the only land-based creatures who play all our lives. And because we learn all our lives, the day we stop playing is the day we stop learning. People who fall in love are learning a lot about each other and they find themselves laughing almost continually. One of the first times infants laugh is when someone plays peek-a-boo with them. I believe they laugh because that game teaches them something very useful. They learn, I am I and you are you.

This is one of the reasons I love the way God grouped us: families, communities, churches, nations, etc. God is a trinity, three persons in such close relationship with one another that they are, in fact, one. We are the same way. Families share the same last name, members of a church identify under the name of that church, and citizens identify with their city, state, and nation. God created us to be like him in that our greatest effectiveness in life occurs when we are in healthy, constructive relationships with others. When those relationships are healthy, we are happy. When they are broken, we don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable.

I believe this is exactly why God created all of us in intergenerational groups, families, where we must continually learn wisdom to keep the relationships. When we all learn, we are able to laugh, have fun, and experience peace and joy, and sorrow if necessary,  together. If the relationships are not wisely developed, they fracture; people get uncomfortable and use alcohol or some other drug to artificially create the appearance of fun.

We all know that often doesn’t end well.

Fun and sound relationships go hand-in-hand. I am a 62 year-old pastor with a church that is growing primarily with people in their 20s and 30s. Years ago I bought a couple of ATVs so I could have fun with my children. Now I have five ATVs so Gayle and I can have fun with couples from the church, or I can go with a group of guys from the church. Why? To have fun. Why? Because I understand our basic human need to have fun, and I know that fun connects us. We have fun in the mountains, and that improves our Sunday morning worship services.

Gayle likes to hike with groups of women from the church. When they hike, they talk. When they talk, they learn. And the women that hike with her are happier because as they connect with each other, their enjoyment in life becomes more attainable, and their own relationships are improved. Fun and learning make everyone happier.

Earlier this year Gayle and I went to Israel with some people from our church. Among those who went, there is more vibrant discussion before and after church on Sundays. Why? Because we shared fun, memorable experiences together. We learned, we had fun, and now we are more connected, and thus, happier. Now it’s easier to laugh and have fun together.

We should avoid believing that fun is superficial and shallow and that it does not create intimacy because it does not involve more intense levels of shared feelings. The opposite is actually true. Fun provides common ground to build upon when the need comes for deeper sharing.

Sadly, fun is underrated in both the therapeutic and church communities. Most therapists I know could use more laughter in their lives, and I’m convinced most pastors could too. I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of trauma, pain, and disappointments in life. And certainly, therapists and pastors work to help others heal and recover from these negative experiences. But as successful frontline soldiers and missionaries who are almost daily faced with human tragedy report, one of the secrets to their success is a good sense of humor, which includes having fun. Maybe more people could recover from serious situations by finding ways to laugh more.

We human beings have a core need for fun and enjoyment. That’s why entertainment is a welcome relief for all of us. When we can have fun, laugh, and enjoy ourselves and other people, we enjoy life more.

No doubt, life will present pain, suffering, and disappointment to all of us. In order for us to stay healthy in the midst of the hurtful realities of life, we need people around us who have laughed with us, laughed at us, and get a kick out of our foibles.

It’s the Christmas season. Relax, and have some fun.

Categories
Responsible Citizens

Elections and Wisdom in Our Great Country

I like being a middle-aged man. I don’t get as excited about current events as I used to. For example, though some elections go my way and others don’t, I have learned that as long as they are free and fair, the right person ends up in the right place most of the time. And when we elect the wrong person, our constitutional system of checks and balances works just fine. So I’ve participated in every election since I was 18 years old. I vote, but I don’t scream at others in the street.

The same is true with my faith. I know the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus is the Son of God, and that Earth is not Heaven, so events on Earth don’t get me all bothered. Here on the Earth, there are lots of influences that do not reflect God’s best plan for people. But in Heaven, God’s perfect goodness dominates all. Here on Earth, I’ve seen nations come and go. Some have lost their freedom; others have gained it. Some spiral into chaos; others find order and good government. I have a strong political philosophy that protects people’s freedoms and allows them to acquire the goods and services that they need. But I’m not the only one possessing conviction, so sometimes others prevail.

Personally, I’ve had very good days, and very bad days, but in the midst of both, I stay pretty steady. I’m not saying I don’t get mildly emotional sometimes, but I have never been mad at God. I’m secure in God’s forgiveness and love, so I can rest.

Job said to his counselors (whose advice sounded good and would be popular today, but in God’s estimation missed the mark),

Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old. But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his.

We witnessed contrasting opinions and motivations play out in the highly politicized Kavanaugh hearings. For those of you who don’t remember, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump to the Supreme Court during the passionate 2018 mid-term election season. From the outset Democrat senators opposed his nomination and Republicans favored it. After the private and public hearings, FBI investigations, validation by the American Bar Association, and the predictable bantering of special interest groups, the judiciary committee was ready to vote pretty much along party lines.

Then, everything exploded when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward accusing Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a high school drinking party. At the time our nation was already sensitized to sexual abuse by the powerful against vulnerable victims and, no doubt, Americans did not want a sexual abuser on our highest court. I’ll spare you the drama that went on as a result of this accusation, and the bandwagon effect that created other similar accusations. Rather let’s fast forward to today.

Kavanaugh is now on the Supreme Court, and the cameras, hype, and spin associated with Judge Kavanaugh have moved on to newer stories. Those accusers who jumped on the bandwagon have all been discredited, and Dr. Ford has become a millionaire. And it’s been reported that she will write a book, which will probably lead to a book tour.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a massive 414-page report revealing their findings. Among them, the report summarizes a statement from a man who believes he may have been involved in an encounter with Dr. Ford around the time of the sexual misconduct incident she attributes to Kavanaugh.

Interestingly, Dr. Ford testified that the assault was hampered because she was wearing a bathing suit under her clothes, and that Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, playfully jumped on top of them and they fell off the bed, stopping the assault.

The man mentioned in the 414-page report, whose name was redacted in the publicly released document, claimed exactly that scenario. The man told the investigators that when he was a 19-year old college student, he had visited Washington over spring break and kissed a girl he believes was Dr. Ford. “He said that the kiss happened in the bedroom of a house which was about a 15-to 20-minute walk from the Van Ness Metro, that Dr. Ford was wearing a swimsuit under her clothing, and that the kissing ended when a friend jumped on them as a joke,” the report said.

Senate Investigators interviewed this man before Dr. Ford testified before the committee, which was before these details were publicly known.

According to the report, this man and Judge Kavanaugh looked very much alike at that time.

The man also reported to investigators that the encounter was consensual.

The point of this blog is not to validate Judge Kavanaugh or the Senate Report. These reports might be mitigated in the future. But the point of this blog is to simply say that we Christians need not be emotionally moved by every trending story. Instead we need to be powerful in prayer, active in responsible participation in our democratic system of government, and, regardless of what happens, trust the Lord.

With that in mind, it might be wise to:

  • Read your Bible every day for perspective,
  • Pray every day, which will give you peace,
  • And attend church at least once a week, which will center your life.

Proverbs 3:7 says,

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.

Let’s do that.

Categories
Responsible Citizens

Finding Truth

Everyone lies.

I’ve watched many seemingly honorable couples slip into deception, false accusations, and exaggerations while going through divorce.

In addition, my wife and I watch the news every evening when we are home. Often, after hearing or seeing firsthand the items being reported on, we observe news reporters distorting, exaggerating, and sometimes totally misrepresenting what actually happened.

We just experienced the confirmation hearing for Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. At the end of the process, three women came forward accusing him of sexual misconduct when he was in high school and college. Though the hearings were already partisan, it was interesting that the belief or disbelief of the accusers or the accused were partisan as well, sometimes based on political persuasion of gender rather than facts. I used to think that was partisanism and sexism. I also thought these persuasions were unacceptable in a progressive society, especially when it comes to establishing truth.

I guess not.

Though every civilized society has struggled to construct systems for determining truth or lies, guilt or innocence, America has heralded her ability to utilize due process under the law to protect the innocent and the guilty from mobs. However, our nation seems to be spiraling into an abyss of giving equal credibility to people’s construed “truths” that fit their belief systems regardless of the verifiable facts. Actually, we’re so confused, some would rather support opinions that fit their persuasions, rather than provable, factual evidence.

That’s one reason why we all need to know that everyone lies.

Romans 3: 10-18 points out why all human beings need Christ. It says,

“No one is righteous—
not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.”
13 “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.”
“Snake venom drips from their lips.”
14     “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “They rush to commit murder.
16     Destruction and misery always follow them.
17 They don’t know where to find peace.”
18     “They have no fear of God at all.”

This accurately reflects the human condition and it matches what I have observed in life. When I went through a scandal in 2006, I publicly lied. Interestingly, everyone else involved did too. Throughout that process, those disciplining me also publicly lied, the press lied, and my accuser lied. We all lied. We were all guilty of that seemingly innocuous offense that created devastation.

Thus, the complex system we’ve designed in our legal system to determine truth and dispense justice ought to be promoted and preserved for the good of all of us. It’s probably one the best we human beings have come up with thus far—though it still must be improved.

As a society, we rejected the practice that mob rule and lynching was fair, reasonable, or right, and demanded that rational and reasonable due process be used to determine truth and dispense justice. But that advance has recently been rejected by our advocacy press corps, shared ignorance on social media, and the politicization of truth.

Now we can easily incite mobs, motivate the angry to bully and threaten, and celebrate the extermination of others. If a popular narrative weighs heavier than the facts and allows us to destroy the individual civil liberties of others for our own gain, we have negated the presuppositions in western civilization that used to protect us all.

In the last century, many of our best political leaders strove to reject racism, sexism, and bigotry. But now the tide is turning and an increasing number of our leaders are embracing these ideas. We regularly hear what white men can or cannot do, and what women ought to do, believe, and promote. An increasing number of our political leaders defend violence, intimidation, and bullying. And many of our institutions of higher learning create ideologues who are incapable of working with and serving those with whom they disagree, but are instead fashioning them into experts who conquer, intimidate, and silence those they don’t like. Are we going to allow this? I hope not.

We human beings are sinful, no doubt. And just about every human being is on a personal search for significance, which often involves conquering or destroying our enemies. But Christ can help all of us rise above that darkness and see a vision of life and light that is unnatural to our dark human condition, and can make all of our lives better. I am the living proof of that.

I’m not a racist, so I’m not going to vote or treat people better or worse according to the color of their skin. Nor am I a sexist, so I’m not going to vote or respond to others based on their gender or sexual preferences. And I’ve rejected bigotry, so I think there is a role for mutual respect, manners, and civility toward others, even those with whom I disagree. I used to find comfort knowing that the majority of our national leaders thought this way too, but I no longer have that assurance.

It now falls to me to be much more responsible in thinking past the spin, sexism, racism, and bigotry that is being promoted by many, and maintain a determination to believe that facts matter, people are human—and therefore fallible, and that we as a society should continue to struggle to help others be better off than they were in the past.We all need to protect due process, the rule of law, and the protection of the weak and vulnerable. I still believe that truth exists, and that since everyone lies, our systems to differentiate between fact and fiction need to be defended and protected so that our rapid-fire communications systems don’t lynch too many. Whether guilty or innocent, everyone deserves due process. We have a constitutional republic instead of a democracy for a reason. It’s to protect all of us from the mob.

Categories
Answers from the Pastor's Pen

Is Healing for Everyone?

A lady came into my office who was suffering from chronic sickness. She asked me if God’s healing is for everyone. I assured her it is. We had a good discussion about spiritual warfare, the differences between Heaven (where God’s perfect will is fully demonstrated) and Earth (where various influences impact our lives). In that discussion, though, I told her that understanding that God is for her is fundamental to our faith. After she left, I thought a glimpse into our discussion might be meaningful to you in the form of a blog. So here is what I told her.

  1. Read the Will

If we want to know what is in a person’s will, we read their will. If we want to know God’s will on any subject, we read his will. The Bible contains God’s will in which he bequeaths to us all of his blessings of redemption.

But unless we ensure that a will is carried out, other influences might prevent it’s fulfillment. I see that happen to people every day. God has provided great benefits for them, but they either don’t know about them, or don’t know how to obtain them, and are therefore missing out on the benefits that God intended for them.

So the first thing we all need to do is read the Bible, God’s will, and grow in an understanding of God’s will.

I told the woman in my office that I have read the Bible, for myself, and regularly attended church all of my adult life. Then I described for her our one-hour, discussion format Bible study that meets every Wednesday night. I emphasized that I always learn from these studies, and so do the others who attend. I told her that this one-hour investment in learning the Bible each week would give her rich dividends. She agreed to start attending.

  1. Determine what God’s will is for YOU!

Once we know God’s will as revealed in the Bible, we have to determine what portions of it apply to us. The Bible describes several instances where Jesus healed everyone present, but we must determine if these accounts revealed his will for those particular situations, or if they are a revelation of God’s will for us.

Hebrews 10:7, Jesus is quoted as saying, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God— as is written about me in the Scriptures.’

And John 6:38 quotes Jesus saying, “For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.”

Jesus demonstrated that God’s will for us is clear.

Matthew 12:15 says, . . . many people followed him. He healed all the sick among them,

Matthew 14:36 says, They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.

Luke 6:19 says, Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone.

And, Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Mark 1 gives us an account of a leper coming to Jesus for healing wondering if it was his will to heal him. Mark 1:40-42 says,

A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed.

Here we see God’s will at work. And this healing didn’t stop happening when Jesus ascended to the Father. The Book of Acts gives us numerous examples of people being healed in the church. And James states in James 5:14-15,

Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well . . .

God’s will is healing. Earth’s reality is sickness and disease.

In Heaven, everyone is well. And since we have become God’s people, no longer of this Earth, our prayer is,

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Jesus never made people sick or diseased. Instead, he healed them. Now, as a reflection of God’s character and will, the church also heals people. We as a church hate what sickness and disease do to people, and we delight is seeing people well.

Just as God is against people having to pay the price for their own sins, so God is against disease and sickness being part of our lives. When it comes to the benefits of God’s will, they are available to us in a variety of ways. God wants us well, and he uses a variety of methods and channels to help us get well.

He is still “willing” to heal as he was with the man with leprosy and the multitudes who followed him. 

  1. Pursue what God has for you, and resist everything else.

Matthew 8:16-17 says, That evening many demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. He cast out the evil spirits with a simple command, and he healed all the sick. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah, who said,

“He took our sicknesses
and removed our diseases.”

That was God’s will then, and it continues to be his will today.

God is against sickness and disease, and we are too. God is for all of us being as healthy and strong as possible, and we are too. As a result, Christians have done more to fight disease than any other single group in the world. We resist sickness, disease, emotional suffering as well as spiritual darkness everywhere we have influence. We build hospitals and provide health care all over the world with an emphasis on resisting every kind of ailment. We encourage research and promote innovative techniques that prevent disease, heal, and improve nutrition. And, of course, we pray for the sick, believing God’s will is that they be healed. Certainly we know from our Christian experience that not all are healed this side of heaven today. Nonetheless, we know it is God’s will that all would be healed, so we keep praying and doing all we can to encourage healing as we represent him on the earth.

Categories
21st Century Evangelicalism

Christianity Today Validates Positive Trends In Church (with a strange negative slant)

Part #1 of my response to Christianity Today

While reading the December 2013 cover story in Christianity Today (CT), I applauded its advocacy of Evangelicalism trending toward a more thorough embrace of social concern and the centrality of authentic relationships within the local church. Those are trends I have encouraged throughout my lifetime. The disappointment was the simplistic and dishonest contrast of New Life Church between the first 22 years and the years since Brady Boyd has been pastor.

John Bolin, our youth pastor for many years while at New Life, and his wife Sarah, wrote and produced a Passion play titled “The Thorn” for Easter. Over 10% of our county’s population came to see it each year. It was a production that communicated the resurrection of Christ so effectively that since its inception, tens of thousands have come to Christ. We would perform the play for the four weeks leading up to Easter, then, on Easter Sunday morning we would use the resurrection scene to communicate the Easter story. It was dramatic. Pastor Brady used the same production after his arrival. Strangely,  the CT article gives a disparaging and distorted view of that in its opening.

National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)

I became the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) because I missed an executive committee meeting in Minneapolis, MN. I was asked to speak at a local church’s missions meeting, which I did. When I returned, I discovered I had been elected the new president contingent on later approval of the whole board. That soon happened. I do not believe in self-promotion (thus no radio programs, tv programs, evangelistic ministries or missions ministries named after myself, not even a major donors list, and no capital campaigns). I have a high view of God’s Sovereignity. Thus, when asked by godly people to do something, I typically respond with “yes,” and I try to do the best I can to serve. Consequently, one of my responsibilities as president of the NAE was to explain evangelical positions in sound-bites for media outlets. In my mind, those were opportunities to communicate the Gospel on the other side of the cultural wall–in other words, in secular settings and through secular media to those who wondered why we Christians were doing some of the things we did. The CT article infers that this attempt to be faithful was somehow negative.

During that season, I received requests from media outlets and sometimes federal government officials who were seeking an explanation about Christian stances and activities. I took these as opportunities because they needed to hear from Christians about why we believed, spoke, and acted as we did. George Bush was President at the time, and his evangelical position as a Methodist sometimes needed explanation. For the press, I developed an overly simplistic but useable definition of an evangelical (A person who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that we must be born-again.) Some in the media did not know the difference between local churches and missional ministries like Focus on the Family, Compassion International, or the Navigators. And when a group of Jewish scholars protested the movie presentation of Christ’s life in theaters, I defended freedom of speech and religion in the public square. I never once called any reporter for coverage, I just said “yes” if their request seemed authentic.

I no longer believe the press is innocent.

I no longer believe the press is innocent. During that season of my life, I sincerely participated in working sessions with Ariel Sharon on Israeli security and Palestinian civil rights concerns, strategy meetings with Tony Blair and his staff on free market approaches to poverty relief in Africa, working sessions with President Bush on how to lower steel tariffs (so the poor worldwide could afford tin sheets for their roofs, and refrigerators and cars at a more reasonable price, without inflaming the steel worker’s unions who had high steel prices propped up by our tariffs to protect their own salaries), ways to provide AIDS relief in Africa, and how to make public school more available to religious groups without violating separation of church and state issues. I did not do photo ops with these guys, nor did I arrive with TV cameras or send out reports in newsletters, but I did tell our church where I had been when their pastor was not available from time to time, because I considered the church my primary focus. I think CT’s negative slant in its portrayal of that time is inaccurate.

Even though the media presented Colorado Springs as having significant influence on the global body of Christ, it was not due to the activities of New Life Church, which operated as a local church serving our city, with no television or radio ministries. This image may have been felt more because of Focus on the Family (#1 radio broadcast in the world at the time), and other global para-church ministries. Some said Colorado Springs had more international evangelical para-church ministries than any other single city in the world. I do not know if that it is true, but the press seemed to think so. And I know that during that era, all of those ministries were growing . . . not necessarily in influence in Colorado Springs, but around the world. Since we were the largest church, we were a picture the press could use that communicated this image. Those pictures were more powerful than endless cubicles of warehouse space at Focus. Thus,  we as a church ended up being the poster image.

The power of prayer, worship, and the Word

I did and I do believe in the power of prayer, worship, and the Word. Back then the book, The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson, President of Walk Thru The Bible Ministries, was popular. Dick Eastman from Every Home for Christ was promoting the ideas in this book, and other prayer books heavily. New Life also cooperated with Peter Wagner, who had recently resigned from Fuller Seminary and was was leading a massive global prayer effort through Luis Bush’s World Prayer Track. We also built the World Prayer Center as a place for worship and prayer for the nations and ethno-linguistic people groups world-wide. There we served communion 24 hours a day, and promoted prayer and fasting at the World Prayer Center and Praise Mountain, a prayer and fasting center in the mountains. Since Patton Dodd, the author of this article, was a young man at the time, maybe the Prayer of Jabez seemed self-centered and ungodly in his eyes. That is the impression CT gives.

Were there internal and external conflicts during this time? Yes indeed. I think it’s inherant in the fact that God works through people like all of us who are fallen. By placing His divinity within our humanity, and then leaving us on the Earth to try to do what he is doing and say what he is saying, a monumental task develops . . . especially if increased numbers of people keep showing up in our churches.

I think I’ve said enough today to communicate that I respect Patton Dodd and Christianity Today in their attempt to encourage the core imperatives of our faith. I regret that they created an artifical contrast between my values and the wonderful improvements Brady Boyd and his team have made at New Life. Frankly, I think it’s unfair, but it does reveal a core problem in our evangelical culture. Why did Christianity Today present this the way they did? And to use it as their cover story in December, the month we all celebrate God coming to us in human form, seems to communicate an odd priority at CT. Though misrepresented, I know how Christ works through me and others by his grace, and I am confident that in the end, Christ will be glorified, the Bible will be read by an increasing number of people, and as they read, they will respond to His wonderful offer of sins forgiven and eternal life.

Categories
Q and A

Why Do People Say Our Ancestors Are From Outer Space?

Every January at St. James Church we invite our congregation to submit questions that I then answer impromptu. This is always fun and interesting because it reveals what congregation members are interested in and forces me to reveal some of my personal beliefs and subjective opinions. Sometimes this pleases people. Other times it doesn’t.

The questions are randomly selected during the month of January to be answered publicly. You can find the videos of those services at www.saintjameschurch.com. The questions I didn’t get to in the services will be addressed here and in future blogs at www.tedhaggardblog.com. Today’s question:

Why do people say that our ancestors are from outer space?

It’s obvious, isn’t it? We’ve all met people who make us wonder if aliens are among us now!

Seriously, though, some secularists believe that because we humans are so different than other living beings here on the earth, there had to be some outside influence on human development in addition to evolution. Biblical believers, however, explain those distinctions with the creation account of Adam and Eve and the 1,500 pages of ancient accounts of God dealing with the human race.

There are biblical accounts in which the authors describe spiritual encounters which sound to some like encounters with aliens and their spacecraft. My favorite one is found in the first chapter of Ezekiel, where Ezekiel describes an encounter with God that sounds a lot like a space-ship as it would be described through the mind of someone living at that time. And what about the Genesis 6 account of the giant Nephilites, offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men,” who became the heroes and famous warriors of ancient times, or the strange creatures found in the book of Revelation? When I was an undergraduate student at Oral Roberts University in the 1970s, a book devoted to this subject,The Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken, generated a lot of discussion.

Aliens? Demons? Angels? God himself? Visions? Spaceships? What is the Bible talking about?

Well, here is what I can tell you: the Bible is the book God has given us that includes all the material we need to understand, to some degree, the reality of his existence, the fact that he created the heavens and the earth, and that he created us in his own image.

We are also the species that is able to contemplate a spiritual world. We are spirits who live in bodies, and when we die, we will continue to exist, not within these decaying bodies, but in eternity – a different dimension. We also know that God is Spirit, and that there are also good spirits and bad spirits.

We deduce from Scripture that before human history, one-third of the angels rebelled against God and became evil spirits, or demons. Two-thirds of the angels did not rebel against God and we know them as good servants of God, who minister to us along with God’s Holy Spirit. Evil spirits continue to be rebellious, and they use their influence to distract us from the one true God, or to incite human beings to directly rebel against God. The Bible implies that the purpose of earth is for us to have a place where we can decide if we want to submit to God and believe him, or to rebel against God and believe alternative ideas.God wants us to be free to make that choice, so he allows earth to consist of conflicting influences such as the Devil, angels, demons, our own independent will, various ideas and ideologies, natural law, and of course, God’s Spirit in order to give us opportunities to make choices.

Heaven is a place where God’s perfect will is fully expressed, which is outside of our earthly realm as we know it. Hell is also a place, in the depths of the earth, which is where those who have rejected God or denied his existence go after departing from their bodies. And it is the place where the Devil and his demons will spend eternity. When the Devil led his rebellion against God, he was thrown to the earth. And one day he’ll be thrown into Hell. The whole universe did not fall, the Devil and his demons did. Hell was made for them.

The Bible reveals what we need to know in order to be reconciled to God and to have an eternal relationship with him. It does not cover details of life on earth prior to Adam and Eve, nor does it cover details of the potential of life on other planets.Why? Maybe because it’s none of our business and it might become another distraction. So your question: why do people say that our ancestors are from outer space? Perhaps it is because there might have been communication or influences from outer space—or another realm—that we are not sure of, so people make guesses.

Are they right? We don’t know for sure today, but we might know tomorrow . . . or maybe tonight.

Good question.

Categories
Q and A

What is going to happen to our country in the next four years?

What is going to happen to our country in the next four years?

Good question, especially when we have a new president or experience an unusual event. All of us want predictability and order, but we live in a world plagued by chaos and disorder. Just hearing about the changes going on in the world upsets many, but not much bothers me because I live my life according to a few core principles. So, no matter what is going on around me, I maintain a sense of order that makes it possible for me to stay steady. I’ll explain:

  1. I read my Bible and pray every day.The Bible is the primary way I learn about God, and through prayer my relationship with him comes alive. This dynamic became vivid for me in my teen years as I developed a concern for the suffering church. Knowing how they suffer keeps me from thinking more highly of myself than I ought. I am always conscious of the fact that there are believers in more difficult situations than I have ever faced, and that awareness helps me stay steady and be grateful. Those who have suffered have taught me that time in God’s Word and a dependence upon worship and prayer is more than devotion, it’s my lifeline.
  2. I am committed to the local church.I believe God established the church, so it’s his, not ours. I’ve decided to love the church because of what the church is, not because of what other people do or say. I show up, I give, I serve, and I love God’s people. Regardless of where I live or the conditions of my personal life, I am a local church guy. It is my primary identity.
  3. I prioritize relationships.My relationship with God is primary in my life, followed by my relationship with my wife, then my kids, then relatives and friends, and finally strangers. Thus, I have a responsibility to take care of myself — my mental and emotional health, my physical body, and my spiritual life, so I can care for others. So many forget to care for themselves and end up a mess, and that inevitably creates a mess for others. I am responsible for making myself trustworthy and strong. And I know that my wife and I must maintain our relationship in order to experience so much of the goodness life has to offer. So today Gayle and I take care of ourselves, then we cherish our family and friends, many of whom serve with us in the church. With these relationships in order, together we all have the strength to care for the stranger, which helps make the world a better place.
  4. I Work Hard.Paul instructed the church at Ephesus to work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.It’s an honorable characteristic to work hard, with competence and a good attitude. Being dependable and trustworthy personally and in our work are important traits regardless of any political or economic situation. All of us should have enough self-respect and dignity to take care of ourselves, keep our possessions well maintained, pay our bills, and be generous with others.
  5. I trust God.I do all I can do, then, I trust God. Five hundred years before Christ, Jerusalem fell and a hostile king took some slaves. Daniel was among the young men taken. The first chapter of Daniel explains some of the training Daniel went through that prepared him to make the best of a horrific situation. He had learned manners and had developed both emotional and physical strength. He maintained his health, did what he could to look his best, studied so he was as well versed as possible in every branch of learning, and developed good judgment. He learned the decorum of royal behavior and understood that these preparations were the only way to be able to capitalize on future opportunities. He did all he could, then he trusted God. As a result, we all know about the successes of Daniel’s life and the miracles he experienced.

That is what each of us can do. We have no guarantees for the future, but we can all prepare and trust so we can capitalize on opportunities that may come our way. We don’t need to know the details of the future, but we can prepare and trust in order to be our best.

I suggest that you consider integrating these core principles into your life, or at least develop your own. Then no matter what happens in the next four years, you can experience a strong foundation, stay steady, and grow as opportunities present themselves. In doing so, you’ll be able to maintain a sense of personal order and peace regardless of what happens in the world around you.

Excellent question. Thank you!

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Every January at St. James Church we invite our congregation to submit questions that I then answer impromptu. This is always fun and interesting because it reveals what congregation members are interested in and forces me to reveal some of my personal beliefs and subjective opinions.

The questions are randomly selected during the month of January to be answered publicly. You can find the videos of those services at www.saintjameschurch.com. The questions I didn’t get to in the services will be addressed here and in future blogs at www.tedhaggardblog.com.

Categories
Q and A

Pastors and Friendships

Pastors and Friendships

Every January at St. James Church we invite our congregation to submit questions that I then answer impromptu. This is always fun and interesting because it reveals what congregation members are interested in and forces me to reveal some of my personal beliefs and subjective opinions. Sometimes this pleases people. Other times it doesn’t.

The questions are randomly selected during the month of January to be answered publicly. You can find the videos of those services at www.saintjameschurch.com. The questions I didn’t get to in the services will be addressed here and in future blogs at www.tedhaggardblog.com. Today’s question:

What’s the difference between a pastor and friend and is it really possible to be both?

The answer to this question is different for every pastor and congregation member.

Proverbs18:24 says, There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. This type of friend is sometimes more faithful than our own siblings. This type of friend is connected through shared life and purpose. This is why I believe we will find our greatest friendships among those with whom we share life experiences; and often these people are within our own churches. They can become our most faithful friends.

This view, though, is not typical, especially for churches that hire pastors and have a pattern of switching pastors every few years. The congregation is well aware that the pastor is there for only a designated period of time and that he can be fired for subjective reasons. They also know the pastor might move on to another calling at any time, which can limit the formation of genuine friendships. This system often promotes cordial relationships that lack personal commitment.

Gayle and I are committed to serving our city for the long haul. We served 22 years at New Life Church and now 8 years at St. James Church. Both churches are in the same city. As a result, everywhere we go, we see people we have known for decades. We’ve enjoyed sharing seasons of life, watching their children grow, and now celebrating as their grandchildren come along. I often say, the only way to have a 10-year relationship with someone is to know them for 10 years. There are no shortcuts. Many of the members of St. James Church are long-term friends; and probably half of those who make office appointments with me are people I have known for years who live in the community but don’t attend St. James Church.

The Pastoral Role is Fraught with Unspoken Expectations

Nonetheless, I do understand the pastoral role is fraught with unspoken expectations by others about what a pastor should be like. Several years ago one of my staff pastors at New Life went on vacation with another couple in the church he and his wife considered close friends. After the vacation, the other couple left the church and stopped communicating with that pastor and his family. I don’t know what happened, but my guess is that the other couple had an ideal image in their minds as to how a pastor should act, and when they saw him water skiing or watched a television program with him, their expectations were unmet, and they chose to move on.

This is why many pastors do not socialize with people in their churches and choose to be more private in their personal lives. It’s why Gayle and I have learned not to stay for wedding rehearsal dinners or wedding receptions. Typically, the family hosting the event invites us to stay because we know one another, but they don’t realize the awkward situations that can quickly develop with their other friends and family members involved with the wedding, who have a distinct expectation of the pastor, or a distant or hostile relationship with God or the church as an institution.

We’ve also chosen to respect the choices people make about themselves and their relationships with us. Sometimes people involve their pastor in private and difficult events in their families. Afterwards, they are embarrassed and want a new beginning, or perhaps the sight of the pastor reminds them of the difficult stage in their lives. So, though the pastor feels connected and committed to the relationship, those individuals don’t want to be around that pastor any longer. We respect that they have that freedom.

Gayle and I are in our sixties now, so we’ve settled on this issue. There have been many times when we thought others were good friends who would last a lifetime, only to have them disappear without explanation. Other times we thought people were moderately involved, yet now, 30 years down the road, their faithful friendships are profound and notable. It takes time to identify those who are true and trustworthy. Yet what we have found is that relationships that share a common purpose happen naturally and are the easiest to maintain. Even so, we enjoy people and are willing to partner with them for the cause of Christ to whatever degree they are willing.

Paul dealt with this subject in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13. I believe he is being candid when he writes:

Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us . . . Open your heart to us.

Most pastors I know feel this way. I think it would benefit the body of Christ for all believers to take the risk and let friendships flourish.

Categories
21st Century Evangelicalism

Rescuing The Dying American Church

We are what we love. If that’s true, the church is off track. We’ve stopped highlighting repentance, humility, holiness, self-sacrifice, and eternal judgment and have replaced these core values with wealth, influence, leadership training, fun, marketing, and lust.

The Bible says a double-minded person is unstable, and should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (see James 1:7). So since we’ve confused attendance and political connections with spiritual authority, and we’ve exchanged pleasing God with pleasing people, we’ve entered into a death spiral as a church. Prayer rooms are empty unless the music and leadership are just right, and consecration to God is treated as obsolete or boring.

The admonitions that “believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position, and the rich should be humble because, after all, they will pass away like a wild flower” are ignored because we’ve become a backslidden worldly church.

But there is always hope. James 4:8 writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

But our current church leadership is so deceived they don’t perceive that they are the sinners, nor do they believe they need to purify their hearts. Why? Because their churches are full, their bank accounts are bulging, and they are surrounded by people who think their leaders are godly.

I’ve seen this first hand. Humble, kindhearted men of God love service, prayer, and the Scriptures. But that all changes when the cameras come on. It’s as if they become drunken with the spirits of this world for power, money, and prestige. Then they spiral into a stupor of superficial appearances of godliness, but the true spiritual power is gone. No longer is depending on the power of the Gospel the basis of their existence, but the influence they have on others takes its place.

David wrote about it in Psalm 51:17,

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Ezra 9:6 says it perfectly.

 I prayed,

“O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens.

Isaiah 57:15 says,

The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
the Holy One, says this:
“I live in the high and holy place
with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.

As I am writing this blog, I am reminded of a young man who was living in squalor. His family had provided a house where he lived with his young son, who was increasingly delayed in his development because of the environment of immorality and drug abuse in his home. Every bedroom was filled with trash, dirty mattresses, discarded condoms, and used needles.

The man needed help and was willing to repent and return to Christ, but he didn’t know where to begin. A crew from our church helped clean his house, and then funded the young man and his son to move out of state to a dependable family member where they could get a fresh start. The church also worked with him to get his teeth fixed, get free from his former addictions, and to start his education. Now time has passed. The young man is now gainfully employed, married, has a beautiful new son. His other son is now in above normal ranges cognitively and behaviorally. No more developmental delay.

Every one of us who has been bound by the power of depravity and selfishness and then set free by Christ knows exactly why we deeply despise sin and earnestly love the Lord and his people.

Psalm 97:10 says,

You who love the Lord, hate evil!
He protects the lives of his godly people
and rescues them from the power of the wicked.

Our hope is for our leaders to go unannounced to the mountaintop with no publicity, no cameras, and no publicly announced agenda, to press through for a private and powerful meeting with God. Most of them will need to unwind from the adrenaline that has been driving them. They will also need to leave their cell phones, energy drinks, caffeine, “medications,” and assistants at home, and stay until they push past boredom and then, like Isaiah, cry out in desperation,

It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

This can only happen by divine revelation, divine encounter, and divine devastation.

But here is the problem. Should they have an encounter like this, they will be tempted to return from the mountaintop and market this experience.

Maybe it’s time we start a new kind of secrets in the body of Christ. Maybe our leaders need to encounter the Lord, be quiet about it, and let the Lord reveal in public what has happened to them in private. That would be a refreshing change of pace, and might rescue our dying American Church.

Categories
Answers from the Pastor's Pen

Everything Influences Everything

Several months ago I was teaching a class on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Techniques for Retraining Your Brain. One of the core foundations of CBT is the biopsychosocial model, which is a new word that combines our biological, psychological, and social lives. Typically we diagram this as the CBT triangle with our biology at one point, our psychology at another, and our social relationships at the third point. The premise of the triangle is that everything influences everything else on the triangle. In other words, our biology influences our social and psychological selves, our social lives influence our biological and our psychological functions, and our psychology influences our social and biological functions. There you have it. You are a biopsychosocial person.

When I teach this triangle, I can see the lights come on in people realizing that they may choose from a great number of options to improve their lives. For example, they can strengthen their mental heath through physical exercise, or improve their biological functions by thinking more positively about their lives, family, and work conditions. Everything influences everything else. Then I tell them what I think—that this model is right, but still incomplete. After all, we are spiritual beings and our spiritual lives play a dominant role in our lives, whether we realize it or not.

So I modify the CBT triangle into the Haggard Diamond. I draw a diamond with our spiritual lives at the top, then the other three dynamics at the other three points, pointing out that everything influences everything else on the diamond. In this discussion, I explain that there are professionals that advocate that any one of the four can individually heal us, but it’s not true. Everything influences everything.

Jesus was hinting at this same idea when he said in Matthew 22:37-38,

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.

To me, this is why our repentance has to be thoughtfully applied to every area of our lives to produce total change. A repentant thought life improves not just our thinking, but also our physical lives, our social lives, and our spiritual lives. When we apply repentance to our bodies, we treat our bodies increasingly like they are temples of the Holy Spirit, which ultimately strengthens our clarity of thought, our social lives, and our spiritual lives. When we apply biblical principles to our relationships, our spiritual lives grow, our bodies become healthier, and our thinking improves. And finally, the obvious—repentance is fundamentally the spiritual decision that influences everything else in our lives—resulting in the other changes, or should I say, improvements.

This is why we are never trapped—we always have hope. This is why I believe:

  • Repentance is the most positive word in the English vocabulary. 
  • Repentance is the most hopeful idea in all of humanity. 
  • Repentance causes some of the most positive feelings anyone can experience.

Repentance is a gift God gives us to improve every area of our lives. He made us so everything in our lives impacts every other area of our lives. Let’s begin again today.